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    Living large
    How did we go from bungalows to McMansions?

    Brian Hutchinson, National Post, Saturday, March 31, 2007

    Canadians are living in houses bigger than ever, even though our families are shrinking. In this, the first of a three-part series, the National Post examines the driving desire for more Space And The Backlash Against Living Large.

    Danny Evans was raised in postwar Vancouver, in a tiny, cottage style house, with his mother and father and a cluster of siblings. "We barely had room to move," he recalls. "But we didn't consider it a hardship. It was just normal."

    A familiar refrain from someone of his generation. But times have changed. Mr. Evans now sells real estate, and lots of it. Based in Langley, a fast-growing Vancouver suburb, he knows what his clients want. It is what most of us want.

    More space. More room for the family. More places to store all the stuff we've accumulated. A wider garage for the cars.

    And if it is a castle you require, Mr. Evans has one available. A 47,000-square-foot behemoth, it sits on 20 acres of rolling terrain, just north of Abbotsford, in B.C.'s lower mainland. Mr. Evans calls it "the biggest house in Canada." Asking price: $9.9-million.

    The place is not yet finished but it already has at least 12 bathrooms (Mr. Evans once counted 16 toilets; I lost track on my visit), plus a music conservatory, a stadium style movie theatre, a dining room that can seat dozens, an elevator, and an 8,000-square-foot guest house that connects to the main house via sun-dappled breezeway.

    It also has a five-car garage, a long, underground tunnel to the his-and-hers cabana and spa, and yes, a hotel-sized swimming pool.

    "Canada's largest house" does not resemble anything in your neighbourhood. Reduced in scale by a factor of 10, it still might not. But it represents, on a grand scale, the impetus that is driving much of the housing development in Canada. It symbolizes our desire for space. In a country with as much room and with as many resources as our own, it is still understood that indoor living space -- and lots of it -- is the ultimate measure of wealth, privilege, and power.

    Canadians are living larger than ever. Since the end of the Second World War, almost all of us have built or bought bigger, in an attempt to satisfy our desire for more space. The "dream house" is rarely small. It is big, and comes with amenities, some modest, and some not: A spare room, a big yard, a swimming pool, a tennis court. A big garage.

    The average house size in this country has grown, from just 800 square feet in 1945, to about 2,000 square feet. Meanwhile, the average family size has shrunk, from four people to less than three. By this measure, we should require less space, not more; however, that is practically a foreign concept.

    The owner of "the biggest house in Canada" is a retired telecommunications entrepreneur who wanted a large-sized home in which to entertain. Don Beaupre and his wife, Penny, sold their 4,500-square-foot house in Montreal and moved to Vancouver. They purchased the 20 acres in Abbotsford, and after consulting with three architects, construction began. That was in 1989.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Beaupre's health failed. He and his wife moved into the house, once it was habitable, but, like Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia temple in Barcelona, the place remains incomplete, a marvel of grand

    Building the house "was a typically male thing to do," claims Penny. "Don wanted to be lord of a big manor. He wanted a large place, totally earthquake proof, secure, and absolutely safe for his family and friends to enjoy. But things got away on him. The house wasn't meant to be so big."

    Even amid the desire for living large, the house is an anomaly. Standing inside the giant foyer, under a concrete ceiling that reaches 30 feet in height, Mr. Evans admits he has had few serious offers on the place. "It's absolutely massive in scale," he shrugs. "I've had people getting lost in here."

    It's a far cry from the post-war building boom, when Canadian suburbs expanded, claiming empty tracts of land. People seemed content with small interior space; it was the era of bungalows. Even 30 years ago, houses in Canada were half the size they are today. Then we began building bigger, culminating with the maligned -- yet ubiquitous --monster house.

    We have reached a tipping point. Canadians appear to have maxed out. The big life may be losing its appeal.

    Neighbourhoods are rebelling against the monster house. Across Canada, in urban centres and especially in suburbs, people and politicians are complaining that the houses next to them are getting too large. Some of the backlash is fuelled by aesthetics; monster homes usually lack interesting design elements. Indeed, some are architectural travesties: Pink stuccoed boxes. "Plywood palazzos," as The New York Times huffed. But they also bring with them environmental concerns. Bigness, we now know, is not "sustainable."

    In Montreal this month, city councillor Robert Bergeron made headlines when he railed against a proposed 35-house development in the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, on what is now agricultural land.

    "We have to ask ourselves, 'How much is too much?' " says Mr. Bergeron, from his office in Montreal. "I think, and I am trying very hard to be objective, that these homes are just too large. They will consume enormous amounts of natural resources, to heat and to power. The developer is talking about 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, with three to eight parking spots each, spread out over four hectares of land. They are talking about making them in the style of French chateaux, complete with turrets. These are not homes of architectural value. No. This is Las Vegas."

    Mr. Bergeron voted against the proposed Pierrefonds-Roxboro development; he was the lone dissenter on Montreal city council. But he claims to have won support from like-minded local residents, and vows to pressure the province of Quebec to forgo a zoning amendment that would allow the big houses to be built.

    At least one municipal government in Canada has created a new bylaw to restrict the size of new homes. In December, city councillors in Surrey, B.C. approved a zoning change that will keep new homes in one neighbourhood to a maximum of 3,250 square feet. That's a reduction from a previous limit of 6,000 square feet, three times the average house size in Canada.

    The change was made after dozens of irate residents lobbied to stop monster home construction. Members of the South Westminster Ratepayers Association claimed that super-sized houses do not conform to their neighbourhood's heritage character; Surrey's city council agreed.

    Next door to Surrey, in the City of New Westminster, local politicians have heard complaints about towering "monster garages" that have suddenly appeared, blocking mountain views and casting permanent shadows on neighbouring homes and gardens.

    Residents say the garages are being used to store furniture and other goods, and, in some cases, are being converted into illegal suites. Some of the new garages are as large as houses.

    According to a city report, "an unusually high number of large and/or tall garages either have been built, are being built or are being requested." Some appear not to conform to the city's building codes.

    There is some evidence that housing development is beginning to comply with this push away from living large. For the first time in generations, house sizes have stabilized. Evidence is still anecdotal; there is no Canadian organization that measures house sizes. But real estate analysts think the situation here almost mirrors the experience south of the border, where Mc- Mansions were invented.

    According to census reports in the United States, house sizes stopped growing almost five years ago. "The average new house size is now 2,459 square feet," says Gopal Ahluwalia, a statistician with the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders. "What's happened is that people have seen building and maintenance costs rise to unprecedented levels. The new home of the future, we think, will fall somewhere between 2,300 to 2,500 square feet."

    Mr. Ahluwalia adds that Mc- Mansions cost a great deal to heat, power, and furnish. "Property taxes are increasing, everywhere," he says.

    "Things probably have levelled off in Canada," notes Jason Mercer, a Toronto-based senior market analyst with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. "Housing size is not something we track, but there is clearly a movement in construction from single, detached homes to condominiums. Prices are a factor. So are consumer preferences, and social acceptance."

    Lance and Barb Murdoch purchased their three-yearold 1,650-square-foot house in New Westminster because they liked its modest footprint, and how it fit with the rest of the neighbourhood.

    "This is not a community of McMansions, and that attracted us," Mr. Murdoch says. "We want to live responsibly and without consuming too much land or resources. We assumed that other people who moved here felt the same way."

    Then their neighbour built a monster garage. "It's huge. It's two storeys. Our whole house is now in a shadow."

    The city has decided to reduce the height of detached buildings; this doesn't help homeowners like the Murdochs, who have seen their property's appeal-- and potential resale value -- diminish. And a height reduction is sure to bother those who already find themselves without enough storage space in their homes.

    The quest for more space is "sort of function of North American life," says the city's director of development services, Tim Whitehead. "We keep finding all kinds of things and we need places to store them," he told the New Westminster Record last month.

    Storage room is the last thing Don and Penny Beaupre require. Their 47,000-square-foot manor in Abbotsford has an enormous basement area with myriad empty rooms. What they want is a buyer. Their real estate agent, Mr. Evans, is working on that.

    It will have to be someone with plenty of money, of course. Someone who can finish the job that Mr. Beaupre started. It must also be someone who appreciates his concept for living: Large.

    Having tried it, Mrs. Beaupre isn't sure she likes it. "This house is too big," she says. "It doesn't fit our lifestyle. It's a bit ridiculous, really. We did get carried away, absolutely. I think we'd be happier if we'd have just moved our old Montreal house here."

    She pauses. "Well, maybe if we could have added an extra three feet all around to it. Then it would have been perfect."

    [email protected]


  • #2
    oh, the gluttony!

    Go big or go away: In sprawling homes, the dining room table seats 20, kids play road hockey in the basement

    Peter Kuitenbrouwer, National Post, Published: Saturday, March 31, 2007

    VAUGHAN, Ont. — Monday morning. Rain has ended, and the construction site is a muddy mess. Peter Lefneski, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and work boots, hopscotches between sheets of plywood laid over the mud, arrives at a pallet and hefts a 30- kilogram bag of thin-set mortar onto his shoulder. He walks to a big house, framed in wood and wrapped in Tyvek HomeWrap, and heaves the mortar to his coworker, John, who brings it inside.

    In all, they carry in 40 bags of mortar: enough to lay the porcelain tiles, laminated with marble, on the ground floor. The upstairs will require another pallet of mortar.

    "Go ahead and have a look around," Mr. Lefneski invites. "That room upstairs, across from the master, is the walk-in closet." (It is the size of a bedroom).

    At this construction site on Grandvista Crescent in Vaughan (which calls itself "The City Above Toronto") workers have torn a hole in the coniferous forest on the edge of town to put up new houses. The houses are big: 4,000 to 5,000 square feet. Unlike older suburbs, where builders left ample space between the homes, these chateaux have not much more than two metres between them. Like many new suburbs around Toronto, the streets here resemble a Monopoly board near the end of the game, when everyone has bought hotels: big boxes, cheek by jowl.

    Mr. Lefneski says he prefers his 85-year old, small house in Toronto's tony Beach neighbourhood, on the shore of Lake Ontario. "Up here, the grass won't even grow between the houses because there's not enough sunlight."

    One street south, on Dolomite Court, Joe Monteiro and his family moved into their new house in December, a French country, two-storey home. The house, which he designed himself, is more than twice the size of the place he left, a 1950s-era home in an older part of Vaughan.

    By the land purchasers' consent, the homes on this street, built by different people, are all in a French style: stone on the front, two and three-car garages with false hinges that give them the appearance of carriage doors; bell-shaped roofs; ornate iron railings.

    Mr. Monteiro is a freelance conveyancer, which means he checks title for land purchases; like many around here, he makes his real money buying and selling real estate in Toronto's white hot housing market. A house is an investment he understands.

    "I got the lot for a great price, for $300,000," he says. "I'm in for $850,000, with the house, and I'll probably put it on the market this summer for $1.3-million."

    "I've lost money for the past three years on RRSPs," he adds. "This is tangible. You can see it. I need a place to live, anyway."

    Inside, the home continues the chateau look, with oil paintings in ornate frames and bronze statues standing in alcoves on the stairway, in the home's centre. A custom skylight with stained glass pours light onto the broad stairs.

    Upstairs, he shows off the couple's bedroom and ensuite; a bathroom links his kids' rooms. His daughter and son have a walk-through shared ensuite.

    But even Mr. Monteiro is a bit bemused by the grandeur. He waves at his ornate dining room, empty of furnishings, and a living room, which looks as though one ought not use it (for fear of making a mess).

    "I have ordered a dining room set," he says. "It's coming from Indonesia or someplace. If I had it to do over again, I would do it different. I wouldn't build a living room and dining room, because people don't use them. We don't sit down and have suit and tie dinners any more." He put those rooms in, he says, for resale.

    Size matters here. The movie theatre, called the Colossus, has 20 screens and looks like a giant flying saucer. The Fortinos supermarket is more like a town, with its own tobacconist, "financial pavilion," florist, drugstore, coffee shop, clothing store, sushi bar, and 26 kinds of dinner rolls. In the centre of a giant parking lot, a mammoth Canadian flag flutters. Nearby, Linens 'n' Things features a wall of coat hangers, including a five-tier blouse tree, and hundreds of seat cushions in paprika, ruby, chamois and Delft blue.

    Around here, you go big or you go away. Lorne and Chantal Marr three years ago bought a sprawling new home in Vaughan. They enjoy space for a dining room table that seats 20 for, as an example, a Passover Seder.

    "We bought 3,850 square feet for $500,000," says Mr. Marr, 38, owner of LSM Insurance. "At that time in the city, you'd probably get 2,000 square feet for that price."

    The garage has room for the family's two cars and the kids' toy electric jeep, a real car into which both the eight-year-old and six year-old can fit, and cruise down the street. Since moving in, the Marrs have had a third child, and hired a live-in nanny. They also finished their basement, and the house is now close to 6,000 square feet. The basement contains a gym, a basketball hoop and floor hockey net.

    "You want to take the kids out to get fresh air, but if they're home, it's nice for them to do stuff in the house," Mr. Marr says. "We played a lot of road hockey when I was a kid. Now you can do that down in the basement."

    [email protected]


    • #3
      Well, that wealth spent on the monster house could instead have been spent on vacation houses in foriegn countries, a yacht, a private jet or otherwise exported from Canada for a number of other purposes, so it's nice to see that it created jobs here in Canada and will provide tax revenue to the local gov't for as long as it exists. Moreover, some day it may serve a broader purpose as a school, hotel or something else - or even become a tourist attraction.

      I sure agree though, with the opinion that the average McMansion is an "architectural travesty".


      • #4
        Originally posted by KC
        Well, that wealth spent on the monster house could instead have been spent on vacation houses in foriegn countries, a yacht, a private jet or otherwise exported from Canada for a number of other purposes, so it's nice to see that it created jobs here in Canada and will provide tax revenue to the local gov't for as long as it exists. Moreover, some day it may serve a broader purpose as a school, hotel or something else - or even become a tourist attraction.

        I sure agree though, with the opinion that the average McMansion is an "architectural travesty".
        With that much money, who says he doesn't already have all those items.
        Thus the task is not so much to see what no-one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought that which everyone sees. - Schopenhauer


        • #5
          Maybe governments need to cap any recoverable value so when floods occur, river banks fail, etc. the government can limit its exposure. You build a big expensive home and you’d better insure it for the unexpected.

          Eerie photos show a neighborhood of abandoned million-dollar McMansions

          Dennis Green Sep. 15, 2017

          Some old and new news on home sizing decisions:

          Baby boomers still influence housing markets | Calgary Sun
          August 11, 2018

          “Boomers in Alberta prefer to stay in their homes and renovate rather than move to a new home, with 19 percent planning to buy a new home in the next five years, while 58 percent would prefer to improve their current home than move.
          Those plans may change as the children leave home and retirement approaches.

          The Royal LePage survey says 44 percent of respondents plan to move into a smaller home in their golden years. Meanwhile, 31 percent said they would consider downsizing when their children leave home. Fifty percent of Albertans, with children at home, expect them to move out by the time they turn 25 years old. Forty-five percent of those Albertans looking to downsize would consider a condominium for their next purchase.

          “Boomers in Alberta vary between those who are quite affluent and those who are ...”

          Canadians should learn to fall in love with smaller homes – Canindia News

          “According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report from 2017, Canadians own, on average, the third-largest homes in the world, behind only Australians and Americans. At nearly 2,000 square feet, our homes are more than twice as large as homes of our British counterparts.”

          Why Canada’s houses are getting smaller | National Post
          July 13, 2012

          “Edmonton has more space per person than any major city in Canada,” Sarah MacLennan, marketing director with Edmonton’s Coldwell Banker Johnston Real Estate, wrote in an email to the Post. “Our average single family home size has actually gone up.” While other cities cope with forests of new downtown condo towers, in Edmonton’s centralized areas schools are starting to shut down due to low attendance.
          In Calgary, even the condos are 4,000 square foot “monsters,” said Bob Jablonski, president of the Calgary Real Estate Board. “There’s a lot of money in Calgary, old and new,” he said.

          Fifty years ago, when land was cheap and the asphalt on Vancouver’s Highway 99 were still fresh, Ms. Schatz says it is quite likely she and her husband would have sprung for a typical white-picket fence home in the suburbs. But now, with suburban isolation, a regional smog cloud and clogged highways to worry about, the choice was easy. “You’re looking at three-hour commutes, and I just don’t want to spend my life doing that,” she said. ...”

          Last edited by KC; 12-08-2018, 10:59 AM.


          • #6
            I hate these huge houses, but I also hate these teeny boxes called condos, with no room for anything.
            I love what we have
            Animals are my passion.


            • #7
              People want massive homes to show off. There's usually no practical reason. Many people say it's to host when guests come over. Well, sorry to say but having a couple people over every few months doesn't really make it worth it. If you have a huge family, then of course it'll come in handy when all your kids and all the grandkids come over for xmas but that's about it. I also hate the waste of space in many designs. You have a 'sitting room' or 'family room' and then a living room both on the main floor, and then a rec room in the basement. Why in the world do you need 3 large rooms in your house to just sit in?

              People are also hoarders. Drive around most neighborhoods and you'll see how everyone parks on the street even though they have 2-car garages. It's because their garage is full of junk from floor to ceiling! This makes it especially annoying when you're the one expecting company, and your guests can't park anywhere near your house because all the home owners around you have their 2-3 cars parked on the street...

              Lot sizes are just pathetic nowadays. You have these huge houses with attached garages that are really just mostly garage with a house built around it, and no yard at all. And if there is a huge yard, it costs a fortune. An older home with decent sized backyard for kids to play is hard to come by. It doesn't even have to be huge. But it seems now with new houses that you either have no yard at all, or it's way too big and drives the price up far too high. The most affordable larger yards are always cheaper just because your back fence backs onto a major road, so there's lots of noise in your backyard.

              I'd love a bungalow, but they take up too much room, so a 2-storey is actually cheaper (smaller lot) and leaves you with more yard, and that's what we have now. 1600 sq ft 3 bedrooms for us, 3 pets, a baby and one more kid in the near future. But I would still love a bungalow one day.